For many families, the prospect of turkey sandwiches and turkey soup after Thanksgiving is almost as exciting as the big meal itself.
While that succulent leftover turkey may be tempting, proper food handling is necessary to keep that after-holiday treat from becoming a food poisoning trap.
“Leftover turkey will keep in the refrigerator for three or four days," said University of Georgia Food Safety Extension Specialist Judy Harrison. "Use the stuffing and gravy within one or two days.”
Here are Harrison’s tips for prolonging the enjoyment of your Thanksgiving turkey without risking illness.
It is best to cook stuffing outside the turkey, but if you stuff the bird, stuff it loosely. Once you have cooked the turkey and the stuffing to at least 165 degrees, remove the stuffing from the turkey. Harmful bacteria are more likely to be a problem if the stuffing stays in the bird after cooking. Set aside the stuffing you want to save as a leftover, and keep it in the refrigerator.
Don't leave the turkey out after the meal. From the time the turkey comes out of the oven, you have about 2 hours to carve it, serve it and then refrigerate or freeze the leftovers.
It's best to slice the leftover meat or turkey so it cools fast. When refrigerating meat or stuffing, store it in shallow covered containers so it will cool quickly.
For longer storage, she said, package leftovers in freezer containers, freezer paper or heavy-duty aluminum foil to freeze them in order to avoid freezer burn. Use frozen turkey, stuffing and gravy within one month.
Be sure to bring any leftover gravy to a rolling boil before serving, and reheat any solid leftovers like stuffing or meat to an internal temperature of 165 degrees.
(Merritt Melancon is a news editor with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences.)